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Faithless France, Faithful Pols


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The NATO Mess

My take on the NATO mess is summed up in a column I wrote for the National Post this weekend. Two more thoughts about the most recent events: Remember how unstable the Schroeder government is. It only barely won the last German elections – and it lost massively in the old West Germany. Gerhard Schroeder’s newest survival tactic is to try to build up his support in the old East Germany by recruiting former communist voters to his Social Democratic Party. And nothing wows the old commies more than savage anti-Americanism.

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Adlai Round 3

More interesting mail on Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 speech, this time from a reader in California:

“I think you and your correspondent are being a bit too hard on Adlai
Stevenson for his “Until Hell freezes over” speech during the Cuban Missile
Crisis.

“1. It is pretty strong language for a debate at the UN. Wouldn’t the
correct reply for that forum have been: ‘It is regrettable that the
honorable representative of the Soviet Union cannot provide an answer at
this time since a definitive answer would materially contribute to the
resolution of the issue currently under discussion’?

“2. Maybe many Americans at the time were inclined to interpret Stevenson’s
words as mocking defiance than supine resignation. Not ‘I will wait
patiently for your reply,’ but ‘Of course you can’t reply : To do so
truthfully would be to admit the truth of our accusations. I’m waiting. Go
ahead and tell us another one, you lying son of a bitch.’

“3. I seem to recall hearing that debate live on TV and thinking Stevenson’s
words pretty gutsy. Of course, he could still be a loopy hyper-liberal and
deserving of the Kennedys’ contempt. Even loopy hyper-liberals can loose
their patience.

“4. Then again, I could be mistaken I was only 14 at the time.”

Frum Hate Speech

Another reader tells me that his version of CyberPatrol prevents him from gaining access to the Amazon page for THE RIGHT MAN. We investigated and it turns out that no, this isn’t a case of that liberal media bias which Eric Alterman wants us to believe does not exist: The problem was with two reader reviews which flamed each other over my supposed “Islamophobia.” One of the flames contained the words, “not all Jews hate Islam.” Apparently Cyber Patrol’s beady little eyes fastened onto the words “Jews hate Islam,” interpreted it as “hate speech,” and slapped a “censored” sticker on them. This strikes me as pretty dumb, even by computer standards.

I’m told though that if you travel onto my Amazon page via NRO, Cyber Patrol will not object – I suppose because anything certified by the editors of NR must by definition be hyper-moral!

Bush and the Polls

Here’s one from another reader: “Paul Begala often states that the Bush
administration is every bit as poll driven as the Clinton administration.
What’s your opinion? Are there specific issues or topics polled? How are
polls used in the Bush White House?”

It’s an very important question, because it gives an opportunity to rebut one of the most misleading of the Clinton apologetics. Yes, the Bush administration uses polls – all modern administrations do. The Bushies test themes and even language: there’s a reason that President Bush always says “tax relief” and never says “tax cuts.” Polls also suggest which issues ought to be taken up – and which should be backed away from for the moment. The decision to put Medicare reform ahead of Social Security reform in the priority queue is obviously a product of opinion research. And I’m sure that the administration polled its AIDS in Africa initiative – and that if the numbers had suggested that voters perceived the idea as an undeserved foreign-aid giveaway, I strongly suspect that the plan would have been shelved.

In other words: It is true that this administration commits politics.

That said, there is an important difference between the Bush administration and the Clinton administration on polling, and it is this: The Bush administration uses polls to discover how best to put its principles into effect. The Clinton administration used polls to discover what its principles should be.

Consider for example the stem-cell debate of the summer of 2001. Any poll would have told you that President Bush’s preferred position – no medical experiments on human embryos – was political suicide. The public had absorbed the media’s promise that by cloning, manipulating, and then destroying embryos, scientists could produce cures for an array of terrible diseases.

(The rabbi at the synagogue I attended as a boy had a lovely sermon he preached once a year to the effect that if our generation could live forever, but only by preventing future generations from coming into existence, we would surely say No. The proposition was purely theoretical then. Now it’s becoming more real: and guess what? The results are 70-30 against my rabbi.)

A poll-driven president would have okayed the experiments. Bush did not. Instead, he – and Karl Rove and Karen Hughes – used poll data to articulate the president’s unpopular position in the least offensive, most convincing way.

The result: a speech that convinced – or at least mollified – those Americans who favored stem-cell experimentation even as it forcefully advocated the president’s own pro-life position.

To me, that’s not just smart politics – it’s responsible politics. To refuse to use the techniques of modern politics is not principled; it’s dumb and self-destructive. A principled politician can use those techniques – without being used by them. It seems to me that Bush has done just that.

On Tour

I’ll be signing books at the Bound To Be Read Bookstore in Minneapolis at 11 am on Monday February 17. If you’re in the vicinity, I hope to see you there!



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